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RFID Automates Witness Program for Narcotics Disposal

Intelliguard's Waste Witness software and anesthesia station enable hospitals to capture an automatic record of when narcotics were used on a patient, by which health-care provider and, if a drug was discarded, who witnessed that event.
By Claire Swedberg
Jul 15, 2019

Hospitals and the anesthesiologists who work at them are charged with meeting tight regulations for the use and disposal of opioid medications provided to patients undergoing procedures in operating rooms. Every drug that is administered to a patient, or that is not fully used, must be documented, and any medicines not used must be disposed of with a witness's confirmation. The aim is to ensure that opioids do not end up in the wrong hands. Drugs are controlled through locked cabinets, either automated or not. Management of waste disposal, on the other hand, can be manually accomplished via paper and pen, with a witness indicating that a product was discarded.

IntelliGuard has released what it describes as an automated alternative using passive UHF (RAIN) RFID technology to detect which products are taken from or returned to an anesthesia cabinet, and to link each event with the provider who accessed that drug. The company's Waste Witness software is currently in use at several U.S. hospitals, according to Elise Claudepierre, IntelliGuard's VP of marketing.

IntelliGuard's Waste Witness software can be used with the company's anesthesia station.
IntelliGuard's anesthesia stations sit in an operating room, procedural area or other central location for medication management and access. In most cases, hospitals using the technology place such a station within every operating room. The station employs RFID to detect the presence of medications, while a Wi-Fi or cabled connection to a cloud-based server manages the collected data. One of the earliest adopters of the cabinet and the Waste Witness solution is Rady Children's Hospital, in San Diego, which uses the system to help mitigate the diversion of opioids, and to create an automated digital record that can be shared with regulatory bodies.

The opioid crisis has made the use and disposal of anesthesia medications a growing concern for hospitals, which must comply with standards such as those issued by the Joint Commission and the Centers for Medical and Medicaid Services. The concern is that health-care providers have access to narcotics, and that some may abuse that access. One way to guarantee the safe use of drugs at hospitals is to require that providers or pharmacies destroy unused narcotics.

Although medication use is tightly regulated, Claudepierre says, errors and omissions can sometimes still occur with manual paper-based filing and barcode scanning. If a medication's barcode isn't scanned by an anesthesiologist as it is removed from a cabinet, that product may simply end up missing from inventory, creating a problem for the hospital.

Rady Children's Hospital launched the system in December 2018 to prevent such incidents at its facility, and several other medical centers have since deployed the technology within their own ORs as well. "IntelliGuard Anesthesia tracks medications at 99.999 percent accuracy rate," Claudepierre says, "through an automated process."

Every medication is tagged with an RFID tag, typically by staff members at the hospital's pharmacy. The unique 96-bit ID number encoded on each tag is linked to the serial ID of the specific medication, along with such information as its expiration date and National Drug Code. IntelliGuard employs an RFID label from e-Agile, Claudepierre says, though she notes that the system is tag-agnostic.

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